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CO N T E N T S
Ν Ε Ν Τ
TH E R I VALS:
PRE FACE. A
PREFACE to a play seems generally to be considered as a kind of closetprologue, in which if his piece has been successful — the author solicits that indulgence from the reader which he had before experienced from the audience: but as the scope and immediate object of a play is to please a mixed assembly in representation (whose judgment in the theatre at least is decisive), its degree ofreputation is usually as deterinined as public, before it can be prepared for the cooler tribunal of the study. Thus
farther solicitude on the part of the writer becomes unnecessary at least, if not an intrusion: and if the piece has been condemned in the performance, I fear an address to the closet, like an appeal to posterity, is constantly regarded as the procrastination of a suit, from a consciousness of the weakness of the cause. From these considerations, the following comedy would certainly have been submitted to the reader, without any farther introduction than what it had in the representation, but that its success has probably been founded on a circunstance which the authoris informed has not before attended a theatrical trial, and which consequently ought not to pass unnoticed.
I need scarcely add, that the circumstance alluded to was the withdrawing of the piece, to reinove those imperfections in the first representation which were too obvious to escape reprehension, and too numerous to adinit of a hasty correction. There are few writers, I believe, who, even in the fullest consciousness of error, do not wish to palliate the faults which they acknowledge; and, however trifling the performance, to second their confession of its deficiencies, by whatever plea seems least disgraceful to their ability. In the present instance, it cannot be said to amount either to candour or modesty in me, to acknowledge an extreme inexperience and want of judgment on matters, in which, without guidance from practice, or spur from success, a young man should scarcely boast of being an adept. If it be said, that under such disadvantages no one should attempt to write a play, I must beg leave to dissent from the position, while the first point of experience that I have gained on the subject is, a knowledge of the candour and judgment with which an impartial public distinguishes between theer
rors of inexperience and incapacity, and the indulgence which it shows even to a disposition to remedy the defects of either.
It were unnecessary to enter into any farther extenuation of what was thought exceptionable in this play, but that it has been said, that the managers should have prevented some of the defects before its appearance to the public—and in particular the uncommon length of the piece as represented the first night. It were an ill relurn for the most liberal and gentlemanly conduct on their side, to susler any censure to rest where none was deserved. Hurry in writing has long been exploded as an excuse for an author; -however, in the dramatic line, it may happen, that both an author and a manager may wish to fill a chasm in the entertainment of the public with a hastiness not altogether culpable. The season was advanced when I first put the play into Mr. Harris's hands :—it was at that time at least double the length of any acting comedy. I profited by his judgment and experience in the curtailing of it-till, I believe, his feeling for the vanity of a young author got the better of his desire for correctness, and he left many excrescences remaining, because he had assisted in pruning so many more. Hence, though I was not uninformed that the acts were still too long, I flattered myself that, after the first trial, I might with safer judgment proceed to remove what should
appear to have been most dissatisfactory. Many other errors there were, which might in part have arisen from my being by no means conversant with plays in general, either in reading or at the theatre. Yet I own that, in one respect, I did not regret my ignorance: for as iny first wish in altempting a play was to avoid every appearance of plagiary, I thought I should stand a better chance of effecting this from being in a walk which I had not frequented, and where, consequently, the progress of invention was less likely to be interrupted by starts of recollection: for on subjects on which the mind has been much informed, invention is slow of exerting itself. Faded ideas float in the fancy like half-forgotten dreams; and the imagination in its fullest enjoyments becoines suspicious of its offspring, and doubts whether it has created or adopted.
With regard to some particular passages which on the first night's representation seemed generally disliked, I confess, that if I felt any emotion of surprise at the disapprobation, it was not that they were disapproved of, but that I had not before perceived that they deserved it. As some part of the attack on the piece was begun too early to pass for thic sentence of judgment, which is ever tardy in condemning, it has been suggested to me, that much of the dissapprobation must have arisen from virulence of malice, rather than severity of criticism: but as I was more apprehensive of there being just grounds to excite the latter than conscious of having deserved the for
iner, I continue not to believe that probable, which I am sure must have been uoprovoked. However, if it was so, and I could even mark the quarter froin whence it came, it would be ungenerous to retort; for no passion suffers more than malice from disappointment. Por iny own part, I see no reason why the author of a play should not regard a first night's audience as a candid and judicious friend attending, in behalf of the public, at his last rehearsal. If lie can dispense with flattery, he is sure at least of sincerity, and even though the annotation be rude, he may rely upon the justness of the comment. Considered in this light, that audience, whose fiat is essential to the poet's claim, whether his object be fame or pr. fit, has surely a right to expect some deference to its opinion, from principles of politeness at least, if not from gratitude.
As for the little puny critics, who scatter their peevish strictures in private circles, and scribble at every author who has the eminence of being unconnected with them, as they are usually spleen-swoln from a vain idea of increasing their consequence, there will always be found a petulance and illiberality in their remarks, which should place them as far beneath the notice of a gentleinan, as their original dulness had sunk them from the level of the most unsuccessful author.
It is not without pleasure that I catch at an opportunity of justifying myself from the charge of intending any national reflection in the character of Sir Lucius O'Trigger. If any gentlemen opposed the piece from that idea, I thank them sincerely for their opposition; and if the condemnation of this comedy (however misconceived the provocation) could have added one spark to the decaying flame of national attachment to the country supposed to be reflected on, I should have been happy inits fate; and inight with truth haveboasted, that it had done more real service in its failure, than the successful morality of a thousand stage-novels will ever effect.
It is usual, I believe, to thank the performers in a new play, for the exertion of their several abilities. But where (as in this instance) their merit has been so striking and uncontroverted, as to call for the warmest and truest applause from a number of judicious audiences, the poet's after-praise comes like the feeble acclaination of a child to close the shouts of a multitude. The conduct, however, of the principals in a theatre cannot be so apparent to the public. Ithink it therefore but justice to declare, that from this theatre (the only one I can speak of from experience) those writers who wish to try the dramatic line will meet with that candour and liberal attention, which are generally allowed to be better calculated to lead genius into exa cellence, than either the precepts of judgment, or the guidance of experience.